U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Mammalogy, 91(3):681–689, 2010.


Spatial genetic structure in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) has been examined at regional scales, but genetic markers with the resolution to detect fine-scale patterns have appeared only recently. We used a panel of microsatellite DNA markers, radiotelemetry data, and visual observations of marked deer to study fine-scale social and genetic structure in a high-density population of white-tailed deer (12–20 deer/km2). We collected genetic data on 229 adult females, 102 of which were assigned to 28 social groups. Our results were consistent with the conceptual model of white-tailed deer social structure, where philopatric females form social groups composed of related individuals. Within-group relatedness values approached the expected value for 1st cousins (R = 0.103, SE = 0.033), but individuals among groups (R = -0.014, SE = 0.003) and overall (R = -0.009, SE = 0.003) were unrelated. Fixation indices revealed a significant departure from equilibrium values among social groups (FST = 0.076, SE = 0.007) and an excess of heterozygotes within groups (FIS = -0.050, SE = 0.018), consistent with theoretical expectations for mammal populations characterized by female philopatry and a polygynous mating system. Analyses of spatial autocorrelation indicated genetic structuring occurred at a very fine spatial scale, where pairs of adult females within 1 km were genetically nonindependent. The occurrence of fine-scale genetic and social structure has implications for the ecology and management of white-tailed deer, including habitat use and resource competition, offspring sex allocation theories, disease transmission, and the consideration of social behaviors in management.